Gardener cook Columnist Jojo Tulloh is taking things easy this month as she considers trying something new when it comes to growing food
As autumnn takes hold, Jojo is taking things slowly and wonders if perhaps she should try something new when it comes to growing food?
Slow Food, the movement that started in Italy in the 1980s, began as a reaction to bland, globalised fast food. The big idea, which has since spread around the world, was to promote gastronomic pleasure through regional variety and traditional cooking techniques. In the UK, the Slow Food Movement’s Ark of Taste (slowfood.org.uk) highlights UK rare breeds and cultivars, starting with ‘Allington Pippin’ and ending with Yorkshire forced rhubarb. It’s a way of encouraging us all to both relish what’s individual about the place we’re in and help to preserve a wide range of foods for the future. This idea of seeking out the unusual for the long term led me to the concept of slow gardening. By which I mean planting the kind of edibles that will be with you for years. These include all the common allotment favourites, apples, plums, red and blackcurrants, cardoons, globe artichokes, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish. But what about nut trees and unusual perennial vegetables too?
Annual vegetables sown, grown and harvested in a single season are a fairly inefficient way of growing food if you think about all the effort it takes and the hours you spend cultivating the plants, only for them to be pulled up and composted at the end of the season. By contrast trees and perennial plants will provide you with crops from year to year and more time to enjoy your garden. The more unusual perennials, which you’ll find in specialist nurseries, such as Crûg Farm (crug-farm.co.uk) and Edulis (edulis.co.uk), are often as attractive as they are delicious, so if you think you lack both time and space to grow your own food, try mixing some of these into your borders:
Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii. Easily raised from seed this perennial, clump-forming leek grows to a height of 1.5m with large flower heads that are a mixture of deep-purple flowers and bulbils. Scatter the bulbils at the end of the season for next year’s crop.
Tropaeolum tuberosum var. lineamaculatum ‘Ken Aslet’. A halfhardy, herbaceous perennial climber that is usually grown for its striking, bright-orange, trumpet-shaped flowers. Its tubers, commonly called mashua, are a traditional Andean root vegetable, eaten boiled.
Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’. This low-growing umbellifer is more commonly grown as an ornamental for its pink-edged leaves, but when young the steamed leaves have the flavour of carrots.
Pachyphragma macrophyllum. From Turkey and the Caucasus comes this charming, shade-loving, perennial brassica (a bit like hedge mustard), with rosettes of bright-green leaves and masses of white flowers in early spring. Use tender leaves in salads or stir-fries.